AUGUST 10, 2022

Watch: Dragon Gate Network


The continued dissolution of High-End has reinvigorated Ben-K. Ever since his failed Dream Gate challenge last November against his stablemate YAMATO, the class of 2016 standout has been an afterthought. With his friend and occasional tag partner Keisuke Okuda now out of the company, Ben is staring down the barrel of a pivotal point in his career. He could get passed by men younger and more talented than him very soon. With that fire burning within him, Ben has upped the intensity and continues to drive home the idea that we’re nearing the end days of High-End as we know it. He was unquestionably the star of this match, doing big man moves with Shimizu and overpowering the smaller Vibes members. 

Ben found himself in the ring with JFK and Kagetora as the match wound down. Looking to assist his partner, Ben went for a spear, but JFK sidestepped and Ben plowed through his partner. This gave Kamei the opportunity he needed to pin Kagetora with the Jacky Knife to secure the victory. This was all incredibly well-timed. Ben can realistically say that he didn’t mean to spear Kagetora, but given everything that has gone on over the last month, this plays right into the downfall of High-End. Very enjoyable, fast-paced opener. ***1/2 


Yoshida pinned the Class of 2021 Rookie with a Pineapple Bomber in five minutes exactly. What’s important to note here is that Fuda has looked so energetic since returning from his broken sternum at Ultimo’s 35th Anniversary Show. When he debuted, I earmarked him as the potential star of the class. Instead, Takuma Fujiwara shot up the card and made a lasting impression with everyone while Fuda sat on the sidelines, injured. While he was out, Fujiwara left for Mexico and we watched Shoya Sato and Riki Iihashi hang their boots up, taking away the luster that the Class of 2021 had initially. Fuda has brought back a much-needed spark to these undercards, alongside Ishin Iihashi, who is more than ready for his first serious push. Fuda’s kicks looked great, his new gear pops, and he’s developing a charming charisma that he’ll need to succeed in this promotion. I’m very happy with what I saw from him here. **3/4 


These four should be collectively known as The Workers. This is the type of match that weeds out normal Dragongate fans from the hardcores, because when I saw this match on paper, I rubbed my hands together and said, “oh boy, this is going to be good stuff.”

As usual, I was right. 

No, this won’t be popping up on any year-end lists, but this hit me right in the sweet spot. The mat wrestling between Maria and Vibes was on point, the fact that Strong Machine J nearly got kissed into defeat popped me, and the closing sprint between SMJ and Maria was thrilling. Coming out of World Weekend, there was a certain heaviness to DG. It wasn’t possible to have a conversation about DG without getting heavy-handed. This match released whatever Take Tension was still built up inside of me. This match was so much fun.

SMJ submitted Maria with a half crab for the victory. ***


In June, Dragongate ran a triple shot in Fukuoka that was full of M3K matches that didn’t feature Mochizuki Junior, who was pulled due to injury. The end result was a bunch of lackluster matches featuring men in their 40s with dyed hair doing the same gimmick that they did 20 years ago. It didn’t have the charm of the 2013 M2K revival. It just felt sad. 

I was very worried coming into this match that they were going to find themselves in that situation again, but this never got going long enough to reach that point. It was a basic, bare bones trios match full of crafty, nasty veterans who hit hard and kept things moving. Don Fujii pinned Kanda with the Gedo Clutch in just over six minutes. **3/4 


I loved every second of this. 

A lot of the discourse around Dragongate in recent months has confused me because come December, they will have three viable Rookie of the Year candidates to choose from. Takuma Fujiwara, who could quit tomorrow and I’d still vote for him for ROTY, Ishin Iihashi, who has yet to win a match, but has been a constant source of entertainment on the undercard and is so far ahead of anyone who is stowed away in NXT Womp It Up, and now there’s Mochizuki Junior, who is on the cusp of being a genuine prodigy who seems ready to carry on the Mochizuki name and legacy. 

I cannot believe the poise that this 20-year-old carried himself with. He debuted TWO MONTHS AGO and he led Ishin Iihashi through this match. Iihashi, as always, was very strong, and there’s an argument to be made that even his blunders, notably a botched cravat-turned-crucifix pin and an Octopus Hold that he lost his balance on, actually added to the match. This looked like two kids scrapping with more ambition than actual talent, which is exactly what this match should’ve looked like. Iihashi asked for this match because he’s pissed that Mochizuki Junior is two months in and already has a title because of his dad. He tried to work outside of his comfort zone and it backfired. 

Iihashi landed a straight jab to the face, causing Masaaki Mochizuki to get up on the apron and complain. Iihashi, seeing his first victory in sight, charged at the four-time Dream Gate Champion and knocked him off the apron. Iihashi hit the ropes again, but this time Masaaki caught him, giving his son enough time to recover and then land a vicious knee strike and a Hurricane Kick. He put Iihashi away with his version of the Twister in 7 minutes. 

This is what I love about Dragongate. They gave two kids a chance and they delivered. This could’ve gone south and hurt the progression of both wrestlers, but I don’t know how anyone could leave this encounter not feeling fired up about Dragongate’s next generation of stars. ***3/4 

Afterward, the Mochizuki family began trashing Ishin Iihashi on the microphone, which brought out Ishin’s father, Ishinriki. After some bickering, GM Ryo Saito agreed to book Masaaki Mochizuki & Mochizuki Junior vs. Ishin Iihashi & Ishinriki for next month’s Korakuen Hall show. 


I don’t understand Madoka Kikuta. 

This man has the biggest disparities in quality work and charisma on a night-to-night basis. Since he returned from his shoulder injury that sidelined him for a year, Kikuta has gone hot and cold in seemingly every outing. Some nights he works aggressively and asserts himself, reminding us of the time that he was a can’t-miss-prospect and a former Dream Gate challenger. Other nights, he falls into the background, often against wrestlers that can only aspire to hit the highs that he’s already hit in his young career. I am baffled by his output because I never know what I’m going to get. 

Outside of his King of Gate match against SB KENTo, this was my favorite post-injury Kikuta performance to date. He owned the room. He looked like he belonged in the same ring as Kota Minoura, a main eventer, and wrestled like someone who had something to prove. As the roster begins to thin out over the next few months due to wrestlers working stateside, Kikuta has a golden opportunity to prove his worth on the roster. This was a valuable first step in doing so. 

Both he and Kondo were unphased by Minorita’s usual tricks, a possible sign that Gold Class and their bizarre run are coming to an end. Instead, the bulk of this match was spent with Kikuta and Minoura doing crisp work that helped both guys shake off the weight of a tough summer. In the end, Minorita fell victim to Kikuta’s snap piledriver. ***1/4 


There are a number of ways to break down this match. 

Let’s start with the fact that I think it’s cool that El Hijo del Santo is doing what will probably be the last Japan tour of his career for Dragongate. Despite being boldly Anti-Lucha for most of my time covering wrestling, Santo is one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time and given his time in Universal Lucha Libre, on top of his overall influence on the wrestling world, I love that he was able to work Dragongate. 

I do not like that he submitted the current Open the Brave Gate Champion. 

I thought this match was largely fine. D’Courage looked great, Sky Diamonds were awesome as they always are, and there was great novelty in seeing a hodgepodge of names like Ho Ho Lun, KAI, and El Hjio del Santo in the same match. 

This match just happened to bring out The Worst in Ultimo Dragon. When The Principal returned home in 2019, I was very much against it. Ultimo’s ego had run wild in every promotion he had been in before, and I expected the same in Dragongate. Things hit rock bottom in November 2019 when The Ultimo Show rolled into The Gate of Destiny and produced one of my least favorite matches in company history. Change is scary and I was terrified at the possibilities of Ultimo becoming a featured player in a promotion filled with guys that could work circles around him. 

Instead, after a match with Eita in December 2019 (one that I did not support, but also understood why they were doing it), Ultimo removed himself from the spotlight. He spent over two years working as a novelty undercard act, reminiscent of Baba working comedy tags on All Japan shows. In that role, I loved Ultimo. I often felt he over delivered and on nights when he didn’t feel like working, there was a charm in Ultimo not trying. 

As the year has progressed, the overall feel of this promotion has shifted. There was a drastic shift in May 2018 when Stronghearts split. In one fell swoop, the promotion felt entirely different. These changes have not been as dramatic. In fact, some of these changes feel strangely familiar. For all of the conjecture about what is going on behind the scenes in Dragongate and who is responsible for what, I feel there is overwhelming evidence that Ultimo’s influence behind the scenes has grown exponentially this year. This company feels like Toryumon in 2003 on most nights. That is, of course, the most frustrating year in Toryumon’s existence. That was the peak of “The Social Dance” era, which focused far more on comedy and gimmicks than it did on great matches. It felt like The Attitude Era through the Ultimo Lens. Matches were short, angles were long, and fans were often left unsatisfied. Korakuen outings this year have felt like Social Dance shows. 

Prior to the finish of this match, I truly thought this was a fun exhibition that did no harm. I enjoyed seeing Santo wrestle Diamante and I found the work to be serviceable. Santo submitting HYO, however, goes against everything this company is about and that feels like a direct reflection on Ultimo servicing his buddy over the company at large. I found that result to be so disappointing. 

After the match, Santo bantered about wanting the Brave Gate belt, then droned on and on about wanting NOSAWA’s hair because after all, he’s a luchador and they love building to matches that won’t ever happen, at least in the promotion they’re attempting to build it in. 

This had a chance to be really fun, then a core member of the roster took an unneeded bullet and I got sad. I don’t know how to rate this. 

I’m very concerned about what Ultimo will do next. NR


In a rematch from Gate of Destiny 2020, Eita once again snuck out a victory against Kzy. Instead of retaining his Dream Gate belt like their first encounter, this time around Eita secured his spot against Yuki Yoshioka for Yoshioka’s first promoted defense of the belt. 

The work here was really strong. There’s no way that these two would have a bad match with one another, but there’s a version of this match that is far better than the one we got in reality. I loved how calculated Eita was, working over the arm of Kzy, and I love that Kzy has continued to grow as time has gone on, his character has smartened up in big matches. He isn’t a more-guts-than-brains guy anymore. At one point, he saw Eita ducking out of the way of his Mission Impossible dive, but instead of going for broke, he changed up his attack and delivered an elbow smash off the apron. 

Had this match gone to a clean finish and delivered on what they had started with a series of excellent near falls and submissions, it had potential to be one of the better DG matches this year. Instead, after a few great submission teases, Kzy missing the KZ Time twice but then hitting it on his third attempt, and a huge Destroyer from Kzy, Eita low blowed the Natural Vibes leader and rolled him up for the win. 

By no means was the finish bad, but I also wish it was something different. With a proper finish, this match could’ve been truly great. 

Nevertheless, Eita, as of now, is walking into Dangerous Gate as a credible challenger to Yoshioka’s belt. ***3/4 

Final Thoughts

Gate of Adventure was a much-needed rebound after their brutal double-shot in Kobe a few weeks ago. Outside of Ultimo running wild, I liked the short and long term direction of this show. It’s hard not to believe in a company that is loaded with a number of prospects 25 and under, and they put their best foot forward on this show. While nothing was truly great on this show, there was a comfortable through-line of consistency with Gate of Adventure 2022.

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